Americans hate capitalism.
I should rephrase that, actually: American sports fans hate capitalism. I am sure there is someone out there who could do quite a bit to prove my former point but I lack the time, verbal ability, perspective and work ethic to do so (I know, I know: hasn't stopped me from making outlandish statements before).
But for my latter point, I would like to direct your attention to this Peter King article on Sports Illustrated's website. In it, King answers the question that I have been asking myself all season: How can the Dallas Cowboys dish out massive contracts to pretty much anybody who asks for one in Dallas (I wouldn't be surprised if Dallas's waterboy makes a base $2 million a year over 9 years with performance incentives) in a sport that has a "salary cap", meaning that there is a magic amount mandated by the NFL that no team can go over when paying the salaries of its roster. King says that the Cowboys have backloaded most of their players big contracts to kick in for the 2010 season. Why the 2010 season, you ask? Well, that is when the NFL and NFL Players Union labor agreement will end and there very well no longer be anything resembling a "salary cap".
For King, OU graduate and one of the finest sportswriters drawing breaths in the world right now, this doesn't seem to strike him as necessarily a good OR bad notion except for the fact that it increases the exponentially increases the possibility of a lockout of the country's most successful league in 2011 (that sound you just heard was Bud Selig, David Stern and Gary Bettman licking their chops in anticipation). But elsewhere the notion of no salary cap in Pro Football has historically been met with anything from horror to absolute disgust. Just take a second to peep a Detroit Lion's fan board.
All I have to ask is: why? What makes NFL fans so terrified at the proposition of no handicaps? No other sport is played with the need for absolute fairness like the NFL. What if everyone who played with Tiger Woods was allowed to use a handicap to put them on an even playing field? Football is a grown man's game where the men are treated like children.
This is the NFL's message to every single player in its league:
"Okay, Johnny, welcome to the NFL! For ten or fifteen years you must dedicate every moment of your waking life to football, the most violent major American sport. You will inevitably be forced to retire at about half the age of any other American professional because within about a decade or so, your body will be so ruined that it will be a miracle if you can walk. But don't worry! Our retirement pensions and rights are so useless and inadequate that you will probably die at age 50 anyway due to the 8 or 9 concussions you received during play. And oh yeah, our salary cap prevents you from making the money that many of your professional athlete counterparts make. We just think it's fairer if you guys all make the same money...what message would it send if we had guys making $15-$20 million a year? Unless of course, they play quarterback and have a pretty face we can market to make more money. Don't worry though, us owners and NFL executives will be making the money that you should be due to the success of this league. It is a good thing that Americans don't care if sports CEOs and executives make a killing but if a "spoiled" and "immature" (re: African American from the sticks) athlete makes more than $1 million they will be disgusted.
Ladies and gentlemen, your National Football League: the most efficient and cold display of pure socialism since the USSR.
How do you care one way or another who wins in football? Why should anyone have cared at all when the Giants beat the Patriots? The Giants weren't underdogs. They had the exact same resources available to them that the Patriots did. They both operated under the same salary cap. And they both were forced to participate in the NFL Profit Sharing program just to make sure that no one had more money than anyone else. So when two teams meet that are on the same playing field, how can be an upset? The answer is: there can't be. No result in the NFL is surprising. Titans beat the Cardinals-big deal. Cardinals beat the Patriots-big deal. Patriots beat the Jets-big deal. Jets beat the.....and I have fallen asleep.
But for some reason, America cares. Every Sunday they flock to their television like sheep and eagerly await the results of games that simply do not matter. The games don't matter because everyone is forced to be the same. The games are just kids playing in a sandbox, and just like playing in a sandbox- the results mean nothing. That is what it meant when the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots: nothing. It meant nothing for the state of New York or New Jersey, nothing for the city and nothing for the fans. The stats just so happened to fall that Team A beat Team B on a certain day...two teams that are absolutely equal under a salary cap.
In baseball, the only half-decent example of a capitalist driven sports organization that exists in America, the teams are allowed to spend what they want to try to win, as long as they stay within the general rules of the sport. This way, a win actually MEANS something. And it doesn't just mean something to the players...it means something to the owners, the fans and the whole city that they hail from.
Take this years Tampa Bay Rays for instance. Tampa Bay does not have a lot of money. As a matter of fact there is only one team in all of baseball that has less money than the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa's entire payroll this year was less than $50 million. They had absolutely no chance of keeping up with the rest of the teams in baseball, did they? Because baseball is just an evil entity that subjugates smaller teams at the benefit of the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox.
The Rays are in the World Series right now.
They finished with the second best record in all of baseball. They finished first in their division, beating the Yankees and their $200 million (not a hyperbole) payroll. They beat the Chicago White Sox and their $120 million payroll in the first round of the playoffs. Then they beat the Red Sox and their $133 million payroll in the second round. And now they face off against the Philadelphia Phillies and their $100 million . They are favored to win and if they don't, it certainly won't be because of their payroll.
The Rays story MEANS something. It means that the entire St. Petersburg-Tampa Bay area is vital and successful and the money and time that Rays fans invest in their team is going somewhere. And it confirms to all of us, in our hearts that the little guy CAN win, dammit! Baseball teams reflect the cities that they live in. The fans hearts and souls exist in the confines of every stadium and their capital (regardless of how little) is a part of the very fabric of the team. When a city's economy hits hard times, so does the baseball team. And when the city's economy flourishes, the baseball team's payroll goes up. A football team reflects its city no more than a brick wall. Regardless of what a city feels, experiences or endures, the football team is still there, playing the fruitless and victor-less game in the sandbox.
What would the Rays story meant in the NFL? Well, that I simply cannot tell you. Because the Rays story would have never existed in a sport that features a salary cap. In the NFL there is no David vs. Goliath. There is only David vs. David because Goliath is just too scary a proposition for their provincial minds to wrap around.
But by all means, let us continue to fear a salary cap-less NFL. Let us continue to fear the very notion of competition and a world that isn't fair. Let us continue to fear the Goliaths. Can you imagine a sport without handicaps and salary caps? Anarchy will reign!
Oops, I mean capitalism...oh just forget it.